“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.” ConfuciusI don't know much about beer.
I drink a lot of it, to be sure. Usually Pilsner Urquell or Primátor Weizen. There are some beers I do not enjoy, like Staropramen.
But in the end, I'm just not that discriminating. If I want a beer with dinner, I'll drink just about anything.
My reviews of beer break down like this.
I liked it. Or I didn't.
So, if you want to know more about beer in the Czech Republic, don't ask me. I can recommend, however, that I you should read Max Bahnson's Beer Philospher. Or Evan Rail's Beer Culture. Or Velky Al's Fuggled.
Which was how I found out about the Christmas Beer Markets taking place at Prague's Mandarin Oriental Hotel, running December 20-22, 2008.
Max sent me a tip with a link to Evan Rail's post about it.
Tickets were 150 CZK, but with that you received a free beer and could keep a special .3 liter beer glass. I got five friends to come along with me.
The hotel is a mix of old and new in Mala Strana, built on the site of a former 14th century monastery. The vaulted, high ceilings are gorgeous. Things were fairly disorganized for the Saturday evening session. The taps for the free beer were not working when we arrived.
Also, we found out we were supposed to receive a coupon for a free beer when we arrived downstairs, but it wasn't given to us. When the taps opened, a big line formed and couldn't be bothered going back downstairs for the coupons.
In the Grand Ballroom, which is not very large, bottled beers were lined up on several different tables.We only saw two other beers on tap, one made with coffee and, if my Czech can be trusted, one with dill.
Of course, this was a nice hotel, and I was interested in the food.There were a lot of small dishes, all for 40-50 CZK.
I started off with a Peking duck salad. There was freshly shredded meat on top and a sweet soy and ginger dressing on top.Pretty good.
There was a carving table with pork ribs and duck, but I had trouble finding someone to serve them.I collared a passing chef, and he agreed to cut me some ribs. He said he didn't know how many I should get, so he gave me three. I found out later a serving should have been two.The meat was very fresh and tender, if a bit fatty. I was hungry. I ate every bit. The soy-based sauce on the side was on the salty side, but overall, it was good.
Someone else got green curry chicken.I was a bit dubious about the simple look of it. But looks can be deceiving. It was good, with a spicy edge.
There was a goulash that everyone loved.The meat was very tender after a long braising.
The beer sausages with onion sauce was also popular.There was a small cheese plate. I had one creamy, tangy piece, studded with pepper corns.I tried a walnut tart, which was nothing special.I also had a spicy Sacher tarte, but it was dried out and disappointing.
Did you actually come here to read about beer? Well, OK. Here goes.
The favorites of our group were the beers by Nørrebro Bryghus of Denmark.We got several bottles of their Bombay Pale Ale, including some to take homeA .6 liter bottle was 95 CZK.
I really like their La Granja Stout. It had a strong coffee flavor, way more than you'd find in a Guinness.Unfortunately, a .6 liter bottle was a steep 140 CZK.
G-Man really liked their special Christmas brew.He then went over to a table selling German beers. I had asked him to pick up a wheat beer. He came back with a pop-top bottle of Klosterbräu Braun's Weisse.The beer guy had convinced him that it was better served warm. I scolded G-man for believing him. They had very limited capacity for putting beer on ice and no refrigeration.
The proof was in the tasting. We did not enjoy it at room temperature. It's a shame because some rate this beer highly.
We shared a bottle of BrewDog Hardcore IPA.Hardcore is right. This beer has 9% alcohol level. Most of us were put off by the initial flavor. I don't think I've had such a strong beer before.
The Aventinus Weizenbock was quite good (.5 liter/50 CZK).It had 8% alcohol, but seemed to mask its boozy kick much better.
There was one beer that everyone agreed was the least favorite. In fact, of the six of us, no one wanted to finish the bottle. This was the Aecht Schlenkerla Rauchbier -- smokebeer (.5 liter/35 CZK).I'm not very good at breaking down beers into constituent flavors with commonly understandable taste reference points. You know -- a caramel head, a hoppy nose, a gorgeous body -- stuff like that. With my blunt beer hammer palate, I will just say this:
It tasted like a salami.
The info about the Christmas Beer Markets said there would be a limit of 300 people per session.
I did a rough head count of the people there. From what I could see, there were only about 60.
Which was fine with me. The space would be too small for a number approaching the limit.
I'm not sure of the value of this exercise on beer writing, limited as it is. Especially when it was reported by someone who was clearly under the influence of alcohol.
But, as Confucius says, “If you shoot for the stars and hit the moon, it's OK. But you've got to shoot for something. A lot of people don't even shoot.”
Mandarin Oriental Hotel
Prague 1 -Mala Strana
Tel. (+420) 233 088 888